Today a Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa a judge in Malawi sentenced two men to 14 years in prison because he said her wanted to protect the public “from people like you.” In a move designed to send a signal to other similar individuals the country’s stance towards the behaviour they displayed was made abundantly clear.

What were these men guilty of? Theft, burglary, armed robbery, rape, manslaughter? No, they were guilty of being gay.

The two men Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have languished in jail since December last year when they were arrested after their engagement ceremony. In handing down the sentence the judge described their engagement and lifestyle as a “horrendous example” which he hoped to dissuade other people in Malawi from emulating.

In Malawi the hardline stance against homosexuality goes straight to the top, where president Bingu A Mutharika has decscribed homosexuality as “alien”. A mixture of deeply held fundamentalist Christianity and African traditions mean that being gay has even been compared to Satanism.

Meanwhile in Uganda its government seems poised to move against same sex couples by making homosexuality punishable by death or life in prison. Here too there is support from the man in the street to the highest level of the government, all of them justifying their opposition to non-heterosexual relationships because “they are unnatural” or “Against God”.

Recent years have seen an apparent hardening of attitudes towards homosexuals and this institutionalisation of existing ignorance and prejudice means being gay in most African states is becoming increasingly risky.

The question to be asked here is “Why?”. As the developing world is exposed to the wider globe’s culture via the increased penetration of the media, predominantly via TV and the Internet, is draconian crack-down a way of seeking to stem the flood of destabilising ideas entering the continent. If the gay youth of Africa are able to resolve their confusion about their sexuality and realise that being gay is not some form of abomination does this undermine the Church and state that seeks to provide certainty in an unstable continent? Or is it more likely to be that case that in countries riddled with problems such as disease, poverty, violence and corruption targeting minority groups is a way of deflecting attention from the impotence of the state to provide for their citizens.

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